Solid Gold Soul

October 26, 2009

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Bill Cosby

In a ceremony tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Bill Cosby is scheduled to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the nation’s highest honor for comedy.

Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Sinbad and other top entertainers will be on hand to salute the legendary funnyman, reports the Associated Press. The program will air nationwide Nov. 4 on PBS.

Cosby, 72, has turned down the prize twice before because he said he was disgusted with profanity and N-words thrown around by performers honoring Richard Pryor, who was the first recipient in 1998.

“I told them flat out no because I will not be used, nor will Mark Twain be used, in that way,” he told The AP from his home in New York.

But a conversation with Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser this year at Sen. Edward Kennedy’s birthday celebration changed the Cos’s mind.

“What I wanted was to associate my work with why I do what I do,” Cosby said.

So Cosby rolled up his sleeves to help produce Monday’s program, which reflects his philanthropic efforts toward childhood education and in telling stories that teach something in the process. He’s planned a special nod to his beloved Central High School in Philadelphia, with fellow alumnus James DePreist conducting their alma mater.

The lineup also includes Carl Reiner, Wynton Marsalis, and “Cosby” co-stars Phylicia Rashad and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

Explaining the profanity-laced Pryor tribute, co-executive producer Cappy McGarr said that special aired for a different audience on Comedy Central and wasn’t meant to be offensive, but the show has aired on PBS ever since.

McGarr said he is thrilled that Cosby has accepted the Mark Twain honor this year. “He is a comic genius,” McGarr said. “He just has a wonderful reflection of funny … and is an absolute master at taking an ordinary human condition and giving his take on it. …He makes us laugh with us, not at us.”

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